Communicating with your Child
As a parent, it can be frustrating sometimes when you say things over and over again and your child “just doesn’t listen!” However, your child is listening, his brain at this stage just works differently than yours. As adults we usually expect children to fit into our schedules, lives and world. Children are people too, and sometimes we have to make changes in ourselves to accommodate them.
Some Things you Need to Know
You need to realize that children are different, even your own! Each child has a different personality and temperament, which is apparent from birth. There is no “one rule fits all”. As parents, you need to look at your child and adapt what works best with his character.
Your toddler or 3-year-old isn’t out to get you! It may seem that your child “just isn’t listening.” However, you should know that at this age impulse control is still a developing skill and is very difficult for your child to control. This is because the part in the brain (frontal lobes) necessary for controlling impulse is still developing and will not be well developed till age 7.
Take time to reflect on your parenting strategy; how is your current communication with your child? Do you find yourself saying “No” and yelling more than you would like?
How to Communicate Positively and Effectively
Get down to your child’s eye level.
This makes it easier to get and maintain your child’s attention. Most likely when you’re shouting out something overhead, your child will have completely missed that you’re talking to him.
Give your child a chance to explain and listen.
If your child has misbehaved give him a chance to explain before jumping to conclusions. If your child doesn’t have the words to express himself, you can supply him with short yes/no questions to understand what happened. Restate what you understood back to your child in short clear sentences to avoid misunderstanding. By taking his feelings seriously, you’re showing him you care about his point of view and that his thoughts matter.
Avoid feelings of guilt or shame.
At this age children are very sensitive of their actions. It may seem easy to shame your child into doing something by saying things such as, “You make a mess every time you feed yourself, I’ll do it for you!” But this strategy may cause feelings of low self-esteem and inadequacy in your child, which may last into adulthood. Instead, try to offer help when in a difficult situation. Asking your child if you can assist instead of immediately taking over shows you respect his independence and less conflict is likely to occur.
Express yourself and offer alternatives.
Use sentences that express how you feel. “I can’t read the paper when you crumble the pages. You can get your story and read next to me”. This way you’re expressing yourself positively and sending a clear message to your child. At the same time you are offering an alternative, which will redirect your child to an activity that is appropriate for the moment.
Be ready to compromise.
Your child has his own thoughts and ideas and may not be willing to say “Yes” every time you suggest something. Allow your child to state alternatives. Discuss that with him if you feel they aren’t possible or safe. Ask him what he thinks of his proposal? Does it fit with your household rules? Is it possible? How? If not then propose another solution. It may seem like a lot for a 3 year old but your child may surprise you! It’s a win-win scenario. Your child will use these negotiation skills for a lifetime.
Involve your child.
When new situations occur try involving your child in coming up with a new rule or solution. It’s more likely your child will understand the reason for the rule and stick to it if he is more involved. He will also be more willing to accept consequences for misbehavior. You are also helping create an independent and responsible adult.
Your toddler is going through a stage of independence and may become stubborn when you propose something. Giving your child choices fosters that feeling of independence and enables your child to make decisions. “You can have your bath now or after dinner”, “Do you want your blue T-shirt or the red one?”. Try to limit choices to just two items at this stage to avoid confusion.
To Avoid Miscommunication and Misbehavior
Set few clear rules.
The more things are off-limits the more likely your child will end up misbehaving. Saying “No” all the time takes away from its effectiveness when you really mean it. Try to select few clear rules that cover safety and will allow your child to explore at the same time. Involve your child and use negotiation and compromise when you encounter a new situation.
Provide an appropriate environment.
Now that you know why your child sometimes has difficulty controlling his impulses make sure your setting is child friendly. Put away tempting objects and bring along a story or box of crayons when going out to give your child age appropriate alternatives.
Children often act out or misbehave because they still can’t express themselves or label how they feel. Use daily opportunities of crying, laughing, screaming, etc. to label how you and your child feel. Singing and reading about feelings is another great way.
Try to avoid power struggles.
It may be easy now to just give an order instead of taking the time to communicate and negotiate, but remember your child will soon grow into a teenager then an adult and the bond you create now can last a life time. Investing in these early years will help you both in your child’s rebellious teenage years and hopefully create a bond of friendship between you.
Jailan Heidar is an Egyptian parent educator currently living in The Netherlands. She has a MSc. in Child and Family Studies from Leiden University. She specializes in providing parenting support to parents of children from 0-5 years through her website EarlyYearsParenting.